Visiting the Arboretum During Coronavirus

Trout-lily growing in Wingra Oak Savanna


The sun is shining, temperatures are warming, sprouts and buds are growing. Yet we also face uncertainty and disruption to our everyday lives as we deal with a pandemic, the need for social distancing, and orders to stay safe at home.

Finding ways to stay active and connect with the people and places around us are important for physical and emotional well-being. Governor Evers’ Safer at Home Order recognizes outdoor activity as essential, so long as social distancing is maintained. Even outdoors we can spread coronavirus, and for now it’s important to adjust our plans and expectations as we venture into nature.

With so many people home and spring beckoning, the need and desire to get outdoors is increasing. Yet popular places nationwide have experienced large crowds and carelessness about public health recommendations. In cities and states, and across the country, some sites have been closed due to heavy visitation. We can learn some lessons from others and do our part to flatten the curve and protect our communities while spending time outside. Locally, city parks, some state parks (note recent closures), and other natural areas like the Arboretum remain open for now. With the Safer at Home Order extended to May 26,  following all public health recommendations is as important as ever.

Spring is always a popular time at the Arboretum. Road and trail use increase as people come to see the blooming trees in Longenecker Horticultural Gardens, watch for migrating birds, exercise, explore nature, and enjoy many other activities. Every year we welcome visitors and remind them to respect the land, all that lives on it, and each other by following visitor etiquette.

This year, we also ask everyone to incorporate public health guidelines into their personal outdoor ethics. This means only visiting with household members and maintaining at least six feet distance from others – even on trails and in parking lots.

Here are some suggestions to help avoid crowds at the Arboretum and other natural areas:

  • Explore parks and natural areas close to home
  • If the place you’re visiting is crowded, consider going elsewhere
  • Visit during off-peak times
  • Stay on wider paths and trails to leave more room for passing

In addition to social distancing, remember these public health recommendations:

  • Stay home if you feel unwell
  • Wash or sanitize your hands regularly and assume surfaces have the virus
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Avoid group gatherings

If you’re coming to the Arboretum, be prepared:

  • The Visitor Center is closed and Arboretum events are cancelled through June 30.
  • There is a portable toilet in the main parking area. We are unable to regularly stock toilet paper and hand sanitizer, so bring your own supply.
  • Water fountains are not available.
  • Due to limited staffing and because map boxes are high-touch objects, we will not be restocking maps.
  • Trails in west Curtis Prairie are closed due to a major project to rehabilitate Curtis Pond – please observe all trail closures as well as traffic signs and flagging operations around the construction entrance.
  • The gate in the main parking lot will remain closed until further notice (it will not be open on Sunday afternoons).
  • Photography permits will not be issued and photo sessions are not permitted.

Things have been changing quickly, so be sure to check the most current Arboretum updates. For the latest on COVID-19 response and public health guidelines, visit UW–Madison, Public Health Madison and Dane County, and Wisconsin Department of Health Services online.

Our staff are dedicated to making the Arboretum a place of healthy respite and recreation as well as environmental learning and practice for our community. As much as we love to see visitors on the trails, the well-being of our community is our highest priority. This spring, we ask everyone to protect themselves and others by following all public health guidelines for spending time outdoors.

—Susan Day, communications coordinator

(Updated April 17, 2020)